Foodie Firsts: (Delicious) Homemade Stovetop Oatmeal

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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I am fully prepared for you all to think I’m a bit odd to have never had a proper bowl of stove top oatmeal until now.  Odd or not, it’s true.  Oatmeal was never on my radar even at all until the last year or so when I tested out some instant oatmeal with varying results.  Some were edible, others were atrocious.  Either way, I wasn’t jumping up and down clamoring for more.

apricot walnut honey with spoon - edited

On two or three occasions in the last year, though, I did try ordering oatmeal at restaurants.  These experiences were better and opened my mind up to the idea that oatmeal may not be such a bad thing.  Okay, let me back up, I mostly ordered it when it was called porridge.  Because calling it porridge appealed to the total anglophile in me.

Anyway, there was hope on the horizon for this warm cereal-like concoction to actually be worth trying.  But I still wasn’t ready to invest in making it at home.  A couple of things stood in my way.  First: granola.  A formidable foe for oatmeal, because I LOVE granola.  I could (and often do) eat granola every damn day.  Second, I was totally intimidated.

Given the facts that instant oatmeal was generally awful, restaurant oatmeal was (at best) kind of nice, and I had never seen anyone actually make oatmeal on the stove top before, it seemed like it must be really, really difficult.  I imagined it being super-finicky, needing to keep the heat level just perfect, the amount of liquid measured with ultra-precision, and timing it just magically to prevent mush.  (Sort of like the breakfast version of risotto, which is actually kind of funny because I love making risotto and have never found it difficult at all.)  I just couldn’t figure out how it would be worth it to go through all of that for a bowl of oatmeal when there was granola-a-plenty in my pantry.

cinnamon raisin with pistachios - edited

Then came my gluten-free dietary change.  Now, many gluten-sensitive people can’t eat oats, either, but I don’t seem to be one of them.  As long as I buy gluten-free oats, I seem to be okay and I didn’t react to them when my blood was tested, either.  With many of my go-to food options out the window, I need to learn some new tricks.  This is what prompted me to take on homemade stove top oatmeal.

AND I AM SO GLAD I DID.

Sorry for all that yelling.  I just am really excited about this.

Homemade stove top oatmeal is AMAZING!

Frankly, I don’t really understand why no one has told me about this before.  Are there huge numbers of us out there who don’t realize how delicious and easy this meal is??  Or, do those that know keep it a secret so they never have to worry about having to share??  I’m just so shocked it took me until 32 years of age to discover this one.

NEAR FLOWERS - edited

I have Project Grown-Up to thank for providing me the basic instructional information on how to make this oatmeal.  I used this post here as a guide and proceeded to make oatmeal three times in four days because it was so good – each and every time.  It may come as no surprise to you that I absolutely love how versatile it is.  The flavor combinations are virtually limitless and allow me to suit my every whim.  It’s also quick, totally easy to make, and provides such a warm, comforting, healthful way to start my day (or end it, as I did eat this for dinner one night).

So far, my oatmeal expeditions have led to the following bowls of goodness (all prepared with soy or rice milk):

  • Pumpkin Pie Flavored Oatmeal with Figs & Hazelnuts
  • Apricot, Walnut, Honey Oatmeal
  • Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Sprinkled with Pistachios

They have been amazing and I just want to eat oatmeal all the time. All.  The. Time.

As dull as this topic may have seemed before starting it, this might be my favorite Foodie Firsts yet.  Plus, there are so many avenues with which to take this.  I keep seeing recipes for baked oatmeal.  I can only imagine how delicious that will be!

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  While you can certainly go with just a bowl of old fashioned oats or just a bowl of steel cut oats, I have found I like a Bob's Oatsblend of the two.  I use about 2 or 2 ½ parts old fashioned to 1 part steel cut, but I find the little bit of texture variation between the two is quite nice.  Play with contrast in other ways, too.  Top your warm oatmeal with some slices of cool apple.  Cook in some dried fruit to soften it up, but don’t add your nuts until after the oatmeal is done cooking, providing a nice crunch in each bite. Finally, make sure you salt your oatmeal.  This is CRUCIAL to flavor.  CRUCIAL, I say!

Lessons Learned:  This challenge totally taught me to be willing to put aside my pre-conceived notions about common foods.  I THOUGHT I knew what oatmeal was (bland, mushy, sticky) and I was TOTALLY wrong.  It’s good to be humbled sometimes in this way and be willing to allow myself to be wrong in order to discover something wonderful.

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . Local – #6

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

 

The concept of eating, shopping, and consuming all things local has been all the rage over the last couple of years.  I’m glad that it’s catching on and I’m glad to be a part of it.  My only concern is . . ., well, actually I have TWO concerns about this.

The first concern is that sometimes when things get a lot of buzz, they also get a lot of push back.  Becoming popular also means becoming a target.  Once popular, it’s easy to be written off as a passing fad, overrated, or just passé. My second concern is that once something becomes a big trend, (in this case even getting its own term – localvoire.  Side note, while I love the concept, I loathe that word), it can sometimes lose its meaning.  When something is trendy, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and the group mentality of it, without actually understanding what it is your doing and why it’s important.

Overview

I worry about both of these things when it comes to the concept of consuming locally and so I will spend my time today discussing why this needs to be more than just a passing trend and is, in fact, a practice that has massive implications for our communities.

My personal story and passion for living a lifestyle focused on buying local really starts with my move to Portland.  Sadly, I didn’t always live here.  I spent many years (too many years, really) in Phoenix.  When I moved to Portland in 2009, my whole sense of community changed.  It might even be more apt to say that I finally found a sense of community that I never knew existed.

Portland is a haven for small business owners, craftspeople, artisans, entrepreneurial types, urban farmers, and foodies.  I consider myself really fortunate in this regard, as I know not all cities have this particular type of abundance.  When I made the migration from the strip-mall filled desert to Portland, three things immediately stood out to me:

1)      Trees and other green things (I seriously didn’t think trees really were so plentiful outside of full-on forests.  I was SHOCKED to see parksPathway full of trees.  Who knew??)

2)      Proper neighborhoods – With neighborhood-y names (Woodstock, Hawthorne, Mt. Tabor, Nob Hill, et cetera) and with their own distinct personalities, friendly neighbors, and corner shops

3)      The incredible lack of mega-retailer establishments in the city (sure they exist, but not nearly to the extent of what I was used to, and many actually live mostly in the suburbs, rather than the heart of the city)

While I still marvel at the first one, it’s the latter two that are most relevant to this discussion.  The thing about these is that I now feel truly connected to a community – my community.  I feel connected to the farmers and retailers and craftspeople and roadside markets and I want to foster that connection.  It has become vitally important to me to support my neighbors in order to have lasting impacts on us locally, as well as on our world at large.

I keep my food choices as local as possible in a few ways.  First, I buy a great deal of my food from local markets, both from farmer’s markets and local shops/grocery stores (I am eternally grateful for New Season’s Market and get excited for trips to Food Fight).  Second, I am a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, so for several months out of the year, I get much of my produce delivered directly from a farm just a couple hundred miles away from my home.  I’ve never met Sophie and Gabe from my CSA farm, but I read their newsletters and take their expert guidance on how to store and prepare the wonderful fruits and vegetables they grow.  Third, I buy many locally made food products (even when I do shop at larger stores).  These may be items like jam, bread and snack bars (Oregon has loads of companies that produce great products – Bob’s Red Mill, Dave’s Killer Bread, Turtle Island Foods, for instance).  Finally, when I do eat out at restaurants, it’s pretty much always at an independently owned, non-chain establishment.  Not only is the food generally better, but the service and atmosphere usually are, too.

By making these food choices, I know that I am:

  • Strengthening my local economy
  • Supporting entrepreneurship, as well as the realization of dreams and successes of individuals working to offer something to their community
  • Contributing to the availability of a diversity of food choices (rather than contributing to an environment where a mega-retailer dictates what I have access to)
  • Reducing environmental impacts by choosing not to buy products made in big factories and transported hundreds (or thousands) of miles in order to reach me, as well as buying products that often require less wasteful packaging
  • Generally getting better quality products, as well as useful consumer information regarding said products, made and sold by knowledgeable purveyors of their goods.
  • Using my dollar to support (or not support, as the case may be) businesses and companies that act ethically and consciously, with values that align with my own

Spending my dollars at local businesses makes my community richer in dozens of ways and, selfishly, makes my own life better, too.  The amount of incredible food options that I have access to is in no small part due to the fact that we have lots of small business owners here in Portland who fill various niches, resulting in a wide variety of goods.  If they were pushed out by one, or even two, large retailers, that diversity of options would shrink dramatically.  The quality of food is undeniable, as well.  When I get a tomato from my CSA, it tastes like a tomato.  It’s not perfectly round and red and that’s great – because it’s not supposed to be, despite what mass-production tomato growers have tricked most of us into believing.  And, if the tomato crop isn’t fantastic, I don’t get sad, tasteless objects – my local farmers just tell me they’re no good and send another item that is tasty and ripe instead!

Groundwork Organics

Plus, I am a HUGE fan of supporting creativity, joy, and personal passion.  I get pleasure out of knowing that my money is helping my neighbors live their dreams.  I was struck by this very profoundly last week during a trip to my local spice and herb shop, Stone Cottage.  I stopped in for a very small purchase.  I needed ancho chile powder and decided on a whim to try some chlorella, too.  That’s all.  I scooped up a couple of tablespoons of each and was ready to make my incredibly small purchase of about $2.  I decided to also pick up a cup of coffee (produced by a local roaster, of course), from their self-serve coffee station.  While I was preparing my items for purchase, the owner of the shop greeted me kindly, offered assistance, and finished serving another customer.  I overheard him assist her with selecting just the items she needed.  He listened to her needs, asked good questions, and shared his expertise of the products available.  As she left, he encouraged her to follow up with him about how her items worked and then he went on to wonder around his shop, tidying and being a general friendly presence.  As I set about paying for my tiny bag of spices and my caffeine fix, I was told that my coffee was on the house today.  “Enjoy the sun and take care.”

I really believe that he meant that.  He is a shop owner who is really passionate about his goods.  He procures quality products, offers limitless assistance to customers, and is working, in his unique way, to provide a positive experience to those he encounters.  I will gladly give my money to a business owner such as this any day of the week.  I want to see this business succeed and I care about having this resource available to me in my neighborhood.  Happy and successful local shop owners, equal a happy and vibrant community that I am fortunate to call home.

For more information on eating locally, or if you are interested in CSAs, here are few resources you may enjoy:

Local Harvest

Simple Steps to Eating Local

Find Local Foods

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#5 – Why I Eat . . . To Heal and To Fuel

#4 – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 –  Why I Eat  . . . Thoughtfully